BRANKO CULINA isn’t expecting Michael Bridges to be a messiah, but he does want the veteran Englishman to show leadership qualities as Newcastle Jets aim to revitalise their season, starting in Adelaide today.Bridges, 31, will make his Jets debut against the Reds after last week signing a deal for the rest of the season. The injury-plagued former Leeds United striker had a brief spell with Sydney FC two years ago, and hardly set the world on fire during recent stints back in his homeland with Carlisle United and Milton Keynes Dons.But it’s his experience, and enthusiasm, that Culina is counting on as Newcastle look to bounce back from three losses in a row and breathe new life into their stuttering campaign. Bridges will start despite not playing for a month since he left the Dons.”To be honest, it’s going to take Michael a while to get his fitness, but now that his visa has arrived there’s no point waiting to play him,” Culina said.”He’ll be starting in Adelaide because we need to try something different. We’ve had a chat, and he knows I don’t expect him to come in and score heaps of goals. But what I do want from him is some leadership while he gets the games under his belt.”That’s the key thing. If he can get that little bit extra from the younger players around him, he’ll be doing his job. We’ve signed Michael as a package, not just as a player who you can see has played at the highest level. I want him to pass on that experience. The big thing is he’s fitted in well, the boys like him, and he can give us the spark that’s been missing.”Despite a run of poor results, Culina remains confident the Jets can build a competitive season. With a 10-day gap since their last game (against Perth Glory) and 13 days until their next one (against Melbourne Victory), Culina believes the break has come at a good time. The Jets match against Wellington Phoenix, scheduled for this Friday, has been postponed because six Wellington players are involved in New Zealand’s World Cup play-off in Bahrain this weekend.”The break has probably come at the right time for us,” Culina said.”Even with the results we’ve had, the spirit in the dressing room has been terrific. But because of the injuries we’ve had, and the players going away with the Young Socceroos [Jason Hoffman, Sean Rooney and Ben Kantarovski], we’ve never been able to have a settled side. I probably still don’t know my best 11.”We’ve now got Michael coming in, we’ve got Jobe Wheelhouse back from injury, and we’ve got the young boys coming back this week. So that gives us almost a fortnight to work together, to find out who really wants to make this a successful season. We’ll have a game against our youth team on Friday and we’ll treat it as a serious hit out. I’m really excited about the rest of the season.”Meanwhile, the Jets have received a crucial boost with rising star Tarek Elrich agreeing terms for a new deal which will keep him in the Hunter for two more seasons. Elrich, 22, was believed to have been a high-priority target for Brisbane Roar, but sat down with Jets owner Con Constantine at the end of last week to agree to an improved deal.Newcastle have also extended the contract of recent signing Labinot Haliti as Culina looks to create stability on his roster – notoriously lacking in recent years.Culina’s hopes of securing Socceroos star Nicky Carle as a guest player, however, seem likely to be dashed. Carle has worked his way back into favour at his English side Crystal Palace in the last fortnight, and now seems likely to wait until the January transfer window to reconsider his long-term future, which includes a lucrative offer from South Korean champions FC Seoul.
Nanjing Night Net

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